The Afghan government and its international backers, most prominently the Coalition forces, have developed a reconciliation program that aims to entice insurgent fighters to lay down their arms and re-enter normal life. But how is the program viewed by the local population? A recent assessment of local perceptions in West-Afghanistan by A.K. Frentzen, a social scientist in one of the country’s Human Terrain Teams, indicates that the program is mainly seen as a form of surrender.
In the context of Afghan government and Coalition efforts in Afghanistan, we can understand Reintegration, in general terms, as a process whereby low to mid-level insurgents voluntarily lay down their arms and vow to forego violent opposition to the government. The process continues as the former insurgent is re-introduced to a peaceful society where he is provided with some means of assistance to pursue a legitimate and law-abiding life. Though definitions may differ throughout the community of military and civilian decision-makers, this definition was used during fieldwork and in the discussion that follows.
On the whole, Afghans in Shindand District are unaware of any formal Reintegration programs, but they are aware of insurgents leaving the fight. A series of focus groups and one-on-one interviews in the region show that only 23% (9 out of 40 individuals) are familiar with the concept of Reintegration, meaning they have heard of the program or any of the other phrases that allude to reintegration efforts (see below). At the same time, 40% of interviewees say they know of individuals volunteering for Reintegration or surrendering to the government. This seeming disparity is not difficult to understand. Given traditional means of conflict resolution in Afghan society, errant members of a community do come back into the fold. So it is not inconsistent that citizens know of people who try to reconcile with their communities, yet do not know about any formal, Afghan government sponsored program.
Only a handful who have access to television and radio are aware of any formal programs. Of those few, all of them refer to PTS (Strengthening Peace Program or Prosay-ye Tahkim-e Solh), a program established in 2005. Elders who oversaw the reintegration of up to 42 former insurgents in Zeer-e-Koh say their reintegration event was under the aegis of Tahkim-e Solh.
In speaking about Reintegration, some locals describe efforts their elders are undertaking to discourage youth in neighboring villages from joining the insurgency, or encouraging them to leave the insurgency if they are already active participants. To others, Reintegration is represented by the efforts of Shindand District Governor Lal Muhammad to increase the number of insurgents who surrender. A few of the more affluent and educated respondents alluded to President Karzai’s endeavors in reconciliation, pointing to his national address in recent months where he emphasized the need for nation-wide reconciliation with the Taliban (they attributed their awareness of Karzai’s address to regular access to radio or television).
There is no pure, proper translation for the word “Reintegration” in Dari or Pashtu—at least not one that would accurately convey the nuances associated with this government program. As such, policy-makers should be aware of certain linguistic realities as a strategic communications plan is executed. A mistranslation of the word would hamper efforts to rally the populace, while a good translation would do much to paint a clear and favorable picture of Reintegration, thus capitalizing on an important strategic communications opportunity.
The linguistic issue becomes even more convoluted when considering the myriad initiatives related to Reintegration that have been implemented throughout the course of the Afghan campaign. Such programs of record include Program Tahkim-e Solh, the Allegiance Program, the Afghanistan New Beginnings Program (ANBP), the Afghan Social Outreach Program, the work of the Disarmament and Reintegration Commission, and the informal efforts of local leaders to encourage insurgents to give up violence.
In reference to Reintegration today, ISAF interpreters in the field are known to use the term aashtee-ye mellee, which means “national reconciliation.” Linguistically, this is a satisfactory translation, but it is also the name of a 1986 national program initiated by then President Dr. Najibullah.(*) Also used is Edeghaam-e Mojadad, which means “Renewed Integration or Consolidation” and mellee pukh-laa-naa, or “national reconciliation,” but, very few respondents recognize these terms or their significance.
An official Presidential Decree from June 2010 outlining the overarching structure for imminent peace and reconciliation programs refers to them under the blanket term barnaame-haa-ye solh, aashtee, wa jazb-e mojadad—the literal translation being “programs for peace, reconciliation and renewed attraction.” The standard translation is “peace, reconciliation and reintegration programs.” Despite being part of the presidential decree, this term is almost completely unrecognized among both rural and urban respondents. This could indicate that the language utilized is too formal for the common citizenry. Another explanation is that the term denotes general concepts (government efforts to create peace) rather than a formal, widely recognized program (Reintegration).
The only phrases that have even minimal traction in Shindand are Tahkim-e Solh (PTS) and Prosay-ye Solh or “Peace Process,” presumably stemming from recent announcements made by President Karzai inviting insurgents to the negotiating table. The most important linguistic challenge with regard to the program today is the fact that the default descriptive term used by respondents during interviews was tasleem or “surrender.”
For interviewees who were not familiar with any of the terms commonly associated with Reintegration (nearly 80% of those surveyed), the interviewer described the process using the definition in the first paragraph of this paper. After this, almost every respondent used the word “surrender” in every subsequent reference to the Reintegration program. This implies that the common understanding of Reintegration is limited to the idea of insurgents surrendering to the current Afghan government. Even respondents who recognized government Reintegration efforts used the word “surrender” in place of “Reintegration.”(**)
In all of the aforementioned cases, the word surrender was used often, but respondents did not mention any sort of reintegration into a peaceful community. The popular understanding of Reintegration stops at surrender—and fails to account for any of the subsequent steps of the proposed Reintegration process such as integration into a village, financial support or job training and placement.
Hence, policy-makers should keep in mind the various possible differences in perspective between the populace understanding of Reintegration and that of the Afghan government. The government is promoting a formal program from what it perceives as its own position of strength in an effort to appeal to people’s desire to achieve normalcy and stability. On the other hand, many of those in the Shindand area who are aware of Reintegration efforts may perceive this to be an appeal by a weak government making somewhat of a desperate appeal to its enemies for surrender before the government’s international backer depart.
(*) See Matt Waldman. Golden Surrender? The Risks, Challenges, and Implications of Reintegration in Afghanistan. Afghanistan Analyst Network, 2010, page 3, note 11.
(**) Further research is required to assess what connotation tasleemcarries. For instance, whether it is associated with dishonour or whether its value is neutral, and what the implications are for the reintegration efforts.
A. K. Frentzen holds a Masters in Persian Studies from the University of Maryland. In addition to Iran and Afghanistan, his areas of focus include Tajikistan, where he conducted field research on the Preservation of Historical Sites and Monuments in 2007. Since 2008, Mr. Frentzen has served as an advisor on these countries. He is currently working as an embedded academic with Coalition Forces in Western Afghanistan.
The above is an excerpt of “Reintegration in Shindand District; Populace Perspectives and a Socio-Cultural Assessment” July-August 2010, an unclassified short paper by A.K. Frentzen, written in support of the work of Regional Command West.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020